Wednesday, 1 February 2012

To the Field and Back

Last week I spent 3 days on my first field visit with work.  A field visit (a term newish to myself as well) is anytime staff leave the office and go to visit a location where the organisation actually delivers services.  For I Choose Life this is usually either a university, a high school, or a community health clinic.  I have had a field visit in Nairobi, where I travelled less than 5 miles to visit a sexual health drop-in centre in Nairobi’s Industrial Area which works specifically with sex workers and MSM (men who have sex with men – as gay men are called in developing countries).  On that occasion I was out of the office for less than 3 hours.  This time I was gone for 3 days.

Tea Field in Kericho

Of my team of 5 (yes, it used to be 6 but it is now 5) 3 are based in Nairobi and 2 are based in the Rift Valley.  The Rift Valley is the largest of the 8 provinces of Kenya and stretches all the way from Ethiopia in the north to Tanzania in the south.  It is where I spent a week travelling between Christmas and New Year’s, and despite the fact that it is the only place I have been outside of Nairobi – it is hands down the most beautiful part of Kenya.

One of our projects is based in Kericho.  This particular one has 15 staff and has several community sexual and reproductive health (SRH) sites spanning a 400km area.  As there were 2 other managers from the head office travelling with me on this visit, we were able to take a car and driver rather than matatu as the cost would have been comparable.

It took us around 5 hours to travel to Kericho. The first 3 hours were on good roads (“good roads” and “bad roads” are common vocabulary in Kenya) however the final 2 hours were bad roads.  And when I say bad, I mean bad.  The kind of roads that no one in the US or UK would consider driving down without a 4-wheel drive monster of a truck or SUV, Kenyans plunge onto in tiny two-wheel drive sedans.   Roads that are dirt and rocks and hole and dips.   Roads that despite it being 30C (90F) outside and no air conditioning you have to keep the car windows rolled up to prevent the dust stirred up by other vehicles coming into the car.  Yes, I nearly passed out.

But the journey was beautiful.  Kericho is most famous for growing tea, and there are tea fields everywhere – and they are beautiful.  I don’t know much about the tea industry in Kenya, except that like the coffee industry, most of the raw material is exported cheaply to the North – the UK is largest market for raw tea from Kenya (Unilever and their subsidiary PG Tips grow most their tea here).

Housing provided for tea workers.

Women working in the tea fields.

The town of Kericho is quite small.  Less than a quarter square mile covers the centre which has a couple of budget hotels, some clothing shops and barber, and two supermarkets.  Kericho is also the home to Walter Reed (the international development funders – not the hospital) and they have their large offices there (which we were able to visit as they are the primary funder for our programme there).

Charles and I

We spent 2 nights in Kericho and our time there was quite busy.  Myself, the Monitoring and Evaluation Manager and the Human Resources Manager (who I travelled from Nairobi with) all spent the first morning meeting individually with our team members.  I and Charles (who is my allocated staff member from that project, but who is also the programme manager) met to review the proposal he has been assigned to work on this month.  I mentioned in an early post that after carrying out an audit of the RM Team I was going to change the meeting structure from weekly team meetings to one monthly team meeting and monthly individual meetings with each of the team members.  The meeting went well – we were able to put together a good outline for the proposal and identify where there were gaps we needed to fill – such as bringing in more research to evidence the need for the programme and identify specific delivery partners.

During all team meeting.

Following our individual meetings, there was a large meeting with all the 15 members of the project and us managers from Head Office.  The team presented an overview of their work – a map with all of the project sites and activities, their objectives and targets achieved last year, and plans for the upcoming year.  The programme based from Kericho works across a number of themes: clinical services, counseling and economic support for Most at Risk Populations (MARPs) which include sex workers and their clients (especially long distance truck drivers) and MSMs, sexual and reproductive health education and testing services for high school and university students, ad community family planning services.   This was a great session which provided a lot of information – and most importantly it was great to be able to hear about the projects directly from the staff who deliver them rather than reading about them in reports. 

Myself and other managers then took time to present a summary of our areas of work and what we will be focusing on in 2012.  In my Resource Mobilisation plan for 2012 I have identified 3 main objectives we will be working to:
  • 1.       To develop and implement RM systems and processes that are accurate, organised and fit for purpose.
  • 2.       To develop RM human capacity so staff are skilled, confident and productive both as individuals as well as a team.
  • 3.     To realize increase in funding through improved donor engagement, strategic proposals and diversified income.

After completing the audit of RM activity within I Choose Life it was clear that this year really needs to focus on systems and staff develop – rather than having an arbitrary income target which was unachievable.  If this goes well, then the foundation is laid for ICL for years to come.

We then spent the rest of the day visiting the closest of the delivery sites – a sexual health testing centre and peer education programme taking place on a rural (30 min drive down a dirt road kind of rural) university campus.  Again, it was brilliant to be able to meet students involved and see first hand where the work of ICL is taking place – outside of the Head Office.  I’ve included a number of pictures from the visit below.

Clinical consultation room.

Meeting with the Head of Student Affairs.

Students playing volley ball after class.

One of the dorms.

In front of university administration building.

One of the unexpected great things about this trip was spending time with my co-workers and learning a great deal about Kenya through their conversations.   Politics is the hot topic in Kenya at the moment – you may remember from my post the other week – and politics is what was discussed in the car, during every meal, and in between meetings.  It was fascinating to hear my colleagues discuss things from their personal experience which I had only read about in the news.  They lived here in 2007/8 during the violence and were all affected by it in some way – as all Kenyans are.  They discussed the ICC ruling (for those who missed this – 4 prominent Kenyans, included 2 front-runner candidates for the upcoming Presidential elections, have been charged with crimes against humanity by the Hague), the political parties and potential candidates for Presidents and how Kenyans, in spite of everything, are still likely to vote along tribal lines.  They, like most, hope for peaceful elections – but have doubt that Kenya has moved far enough forward.

James (HR Manager), Peris (Research and Development Manager) and Charles

The next day we travelled to Nakuru to visit another of our projects.  Due to being called into a last minute meet and greet with Walter Reed we were quite late in getting to Nakuru – and therefore our time there was short and I have no photos.  The programme there is based on a university campus about 30 min outside the town of Nakuru – although they work across 11 universities over a 200km area.  There are only 4 full time staff and 2 interns.  This project trains university students to be peer workers – the focus of the programme (and the USAID funding for it) is predominately around sexual health with a focus of reducing unwanted pregnancies and HIV infections, although the programme also delivers components on economic empowerment, academic and career mentoring and leadership and governance (in line with the strategic direction of ICL).  Peer workers are trained over 11 weeks and then graduate the programme.  They then are supported to deliver the same programme with other students – hence how the programme is able to operate across 11 universities with only 6 staff.

Myself and other managers again had individual meetings with our staff in those programmes.  Mutie, the staff member I work with there, had done a lot of preparation on the proposal he is currently working on – specifically looking at how the peer workers can be used in community settings (working with at-risk groups such as out of school and unemployed youth) rather than in just universities.  Was a great meeting.

We finished up there and I was back in the car and back to Nairobi.  My next field visit to these projects will be beginning of March. 

No comments:

Post a Comment